Fame and fortune built from athletic career carries into further pursuits

Callie Hawkins

It’s not uncommon to see athletes pursue other careers once they retire from their sport, but at what point does it cross the line when athletes have taken their fame and confidence to a level that is too far?

All athletes, besides maybe Tom Brady, recognize the fact that one can’t make money forever by playing most sports. As we get older, we become less and less physically able to perform extremely well in high-contact, high-speed environments and therefore less and less desirable for teams to draft you professionally. So, it is smart to have a secondary plan or dream, as long as you have worked for that plan and are not doing it because of the popularity acquired from being a professional athlete.

Many athletes use their experience from their respective sport and take it into their other jobs, such as sportscasters, coaches, sports managers, athletic trainers, etc. Maurice “Mo” Vaughn played for 12 years in Major League Baseball on the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Anaheim Angels. His career ended in 2003 because of continuous physical pain from arthritis in his knees. After he retired, he created Vaughn Sports Academy, which started off as a training facility for young aspiring baseball players in Boca Raton, Florida, but has become much more successful and popular, having coaches available to give lessons online as well as a bigger and nicer facility to accommodate in-person training. Children of all ages and expertise are welcome to play and learn about baseball at Vaughn Sports Academy.

One prevalent example of a retired athlete pursuing a career not having to do with sports today is the republican candidate for Georgia Senator Herschel Walker. Walker is a former exceptional football player. He played for the University of Georgia and won the Heisman Trophy in 1982 for his collegiate athletic performance. He played for three years and gave up his fourth year of college eligibility to play professionally. In the National Football League, he played for the New Jersey Generals, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. All in all, he became very well-known and famous for his achievements in football. He ended up setting records and won many awards and recognition in the NFL and the United States Football League.

During the 2022 midterm elections, Walker faced off against Raphael Warnock in the election, which had to go into a Dec. 6 runoff. He had a lot of backing from his friend Donald Trump and his administration, and his campaign rallied a lot of support. But, like most politicians, he faced great amounts of backlash and criticism. People based many of their critiques and arguments against him on the fact that he suffered many concussions as an athlete that may have damaged his brain. There are also claims of domestic violence that spark controversy, but that is not what we are here to talk about.

When I first visited his campaign website, I read through his message and was shocked not to see it mention politics. He mentions his role as CEO of H. Walker Enterprises and LLC and Renaissance Man Food Services, two food and service businesses, as well as how he has built his brand to include affiliations with different hotel chains, the United States military, schools, concessions and retail chains. The only semi-political position Walker has held was under Trump as the chair of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition to meet with members of Congress and discuss the importance of fitness and nutrition. The businesses he runs are out of passion and experience; however, would he have been able to accomplish all of this without the fame and fortune he built during his football career?

Bill Bradley is a former athlete and politician we can compare Walker to. Bradley was an All Star in the National Basketball Association. He played for the New York Knicks and was on the Olympic team when they won the gold medal in Tokyo in 1964 while he was still in college at Princeton University. After he graduated, he went to the University of Oxford to receive his master’s degree and joined a professional Italian team while in Europe. When he graduated and came back to the United States, he signed a contract with the Knicks in 1967 and continued to play on the team for ten years. When he decided to run for senator, he had already been networking politically for years in New Jersey. Having received a degree in history at Princeton and a master’s degree in political and economic history at Oxford, even though he was a former athlete, he had built a strong reputation as a scholar to run for senator. He served as a New Jersey senator from 1979-1997 and was the Democratic candidate for president in 2000.

Walker was majoring in criminal justice at the University of Georgia and, after leaving his junior year to play football in the USFL, never finished to receive a degree. On Dec. 6, when the votes were recounted, the race was so close that the lead was taken by each candidate many times until the very end. Warnock came out on top with a very small leverage of 51.4 percent of votes to Walker’s 48.6 percent. We won’t see this time how Walker performs as a politician. But will he run again? His fame and fortune got him close this time, and maybe he will try to use that leg up again in the future.

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